Cain And Abel

It was natural that Eve should exult greatly when a man child was born unto her. At this day, when the earth is full of people, and the relations of mother and child are well understood before they are actually experienced, which of all Eve’s daughters does not find her heart leap with joy, when her first-born son enters the world! How much more would this be the case with Eve! The whole matter was beyond the range of her experience and her ideas. It was all new, all mystery to her. The child that then received its birth, was not only her first-born, but the first child that had been born into the world, the first child that she had ever seen, the first infant that ever smiled in gladness or wept in grief. It is natural that she should therefore attach the utmost importance to this event. That she did so we know from the name she bestowed upon the child, Cain, which means an acquisition or possession, “because,” she said, “I have acquired a man from the Lord.” This pious recognition of the agency of the Lord in providing her with so great a blessing, is one of the circumstances which indicate that the first pair were brought to a right state of feeling after their fall and banishment. There are some who would translate the words by “I have gotten a man, the Lord,” implying that she supposed this to be the promised seed, who was to bruise the serpent’s head, and avowing her belief in his divinity by calling him Jehovah (the Lord); but this notion will scarcely bear examination, and it assumes a measure of religious  knowledge which there is no evidence that Eve possessed. That she expected some great eventual blessing from that promise, and that she regarded the birth of her first-born son as a pledge of its accomplishment, is probable, that may well have formed part of her joy. If, as some suppose, this child was not bestowed until some time had passed after the loss of Eden, the first pair may have doubted whether any children would be given to them, or in what manner the promise was to be fulfilled. In that case many prayers would have been offered for this blessing, and when it came at last, well may Eve in the fulness of her heart have cried that at length “she had obtained a man-child from Jehovah.”

The first of mothers, the first woman who ever dandled a babe upon her knee, or nourished it from her breast, would however soon learn that her new relation was not without its anxieties and trials, and that it involved duties perhaps more onerous to one who had never known childhood herself, but had at once burst into fulness of life, than to other women since. All her experience must have been founded upon what she had observed in animals, whose young became in a very short time active, frolicsome, and entertaining; and this would little have prepared her to expect the long and helpless infancy of her new-born child, with the restraints which it imposed, and the sedulous attention which it exacted; in all of which she, the sole woman upon the earth, had none of that aid from others which her daughters have always been able to obtain.

It is quite as probable from these causes as from any other that have been suggested, that the birth of the next son was not hailed with the same exultation—that the mother bestowed upon him no name of gladness, but one (Abel, vanity) indicating the vain and uncertain character of human expectations. As this name happened to correspond to the unhappy fate of this son, some have thought that it must have been given after his death; but this is altogether unlikely, since that of Cain his brother was manifestly given at birth; and life had already become to the first pair what it has been  since to all their descendants—so replete with troubles and disappointed hopes, as to render a name of sorrow always appropriate.

As the lads grew up, distinctive walks in life were chosen by them, or were assigned them by their father, doubtless in conformity with their tastes and habits of body and mind. Cain became a tiller of the ground, and Abel a keeper of sheep. This fact is valuable. It shows that the first men were not in that rude condition into which some branches of their descendants fell. The distinction of pursuits belongs to a certain state of civilization. The savage man has but one pursuit—or each man follows equally all the pursuits that collectively make up his form of life. But here the two firstborn of men take up different and distinct pursuits, and doubtless applied all the inventive force of their minds to the improvement of their respective arts.

The tillage of the ground began in Eden, and had been carried on after the fall by the father of mankind. When Cain took it up, it had no doubt been brought into an advanced condition in many of its principal processes; and if Cain possessed any of the inventive ingenuity which distinguished his descendants, it must have improved materially under his hands. But that there is reason to fear that Cain’s sin and fall had root in an inordinate appreciation of the results of his skill and toil—it would be pleasant to think of the delight and pride with which the strong young man would lay before his parents larger and more luscious fruits, finer and more juicy roots, and fuller ears of corn—the product and reward of his care—than he had ever seen in a state of nature, or than had met their view since the cherubim waved their flaming swords between them and paradise.

Adam had brought no small knowledge of animals from Eden, and this, imparted to Abel, must have availed him much in the commencement of his pursuit as a keeper of sheep. He does not appear, however, to have gone further than the domestication of sheep, and perhaps of dogs, as the guardians of his flock. The domestication of the larger  cattle, appears to have been the unaided invention of a later age. The charge of a flock has always been regarded as a more contemplative and gentle pursuit than any other, and more favorable to holy and prayerful thought. Many other pursuits, even agriculture, require the mind and hand to be intent upon its actual labor; whereas the care of a flock affords leisure for meditation. It is in conformity with this experience, that the more gentle and thoughtful character is usually, in our minds, ascribed to Abel, and the more abrupt and active to Cain; somewhat analogous to the differences between Jacob and his brother Esau; and the subsequent facts of their history are in accordance with this impression.